Willett Family Estate 3 Year Old Rye Whiskey Review


By Father John Rayls

Rating: A-

Willett 3 Year Old Family Estate Rye

Willett 3 Year Old Rye
(Credit John Rayls)

Have you has a whiskey catch you absolutely taken off guard?  Imagine the instructors when James T. Kirk led the cadets in the combat training exercise The Kobayashi Maru (Star Trek fans?). It was designed to measure how a candidate would cope with certain defeat and ultimate death in a sure loser of a scenario. Now picture the shock of the instructors when Kirk beat the impossible scenario.

Now you should have a picture of my reaction to stumbling upon Willett Family Estate Rye Whiskey, bought on a whim because it was the only bottle left. I had tried several Willett offerings, almost all of them of the sourced variety, but none had really grabbed my attention prior to this straight Rye.

Willett made the transition from bottler to distiller in 2012, and began releasing in-house whiskeys as soon as they were able. This particular example is from a progressively more aged, limited series, and was aged for 3 years in char #4 white oak barrels, bottled at cask strength of 108.6 proof.

The Whiskey
In the glass, lighter colors of medium to dark gold were present mixed with brown hues. The legs were long, slow and reluctant surrounding the entire glass. The appearance was a part of my surprise with this experience; it was begging to be consumed!

The nose is more subtle, but filled with sweet spice, oak and leather with no alcohol burn. The aromas were also a big part of my surprise.

A very nice creamy mouthfeel started off the palette extremely well. It quickly became a whole mouth experience in all of the quadrants. The flavors easily reminded me of a cherry cordial, but not quite as sweet. This was on top of light oak, leather and pepper. Here in Texas, I was introduced to grilled fruit and brownies with small peppers grown locally. This Rye gave me a sense of the fruit/brownie/pepper/grilling experience.

The finish was long and luxurious transitioning from sweet spice to pepper, but without losing balance or over staying its welcome. It eventually faded out with cloves and oak leaving a very interesting light minty taste.

The Price
The 750ml bottle cost me $39.95, the recommended price. That was a mild stroke of luck, since the price point averages $55 nationally and is over $100 with some retailers. It’s a fan favorite, limited edition item, so if you can find it marked at a reasonable rate, grab it.

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  1. I have an embarrassing number of these bunkered (both 2 and 3 year old). Both this young Willett rye and Corsair Triple Smoke (Cask Strength Single Barrel) are top ten (probably top five) whiskeys for me and very pleasantly upended any notion I had that I knew anything about whiskey and/or whisky. Without qualification (and I’ve had many high-end American whiskeys and several expensive well-regarded scotches), I love these two whiskies dearly. If I were handed them enroute to a deserted desert island, there would be thanks in my heart and tears in my eyes. 😉

    In reviews, I mostly ignore tasting notes. What I’m looking for is a subjective, emotional evaluation. These are mine. Thank you for yours.

    FWIW, to my nose and palate, Willett’s Old Bardstown BiB is a clear relative to this rye and I find it to be quite good.

  2. I do not see an age statement on the label. How can you tell which are the 3 y/o’s?

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